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Cardiff-by-the-Sea Beaches

San Elijos State Beach, Pacific Coast Hwy 101
Encinitas, CA 92007

Region: North County Coastal

Welcome to Cardiff-by-the-Sea, a favorite beach-going spot for families and surfers alike.

Boasting pristine beaches, an oceanfront campground, and a devout local surfing community, Cardiff starts at the river mouth, flanked by San Elijo State Beach and Cardiff State Beach, and extends north to Swami’s Point in Encinitas. This stretch of coastline offers wide open sandy beaches, gorgeous cliffs and great surfing.  At extreme low tide, the reef reveals itself with intriguing tide pools, where plants and sea creatures can be observed up close.  Cardiff is also home to the Cardiff Kook - a surfer statue which has been much criticized as a parody of California’s iconic sport.

Where to go

  • Pipes, is a fun peaky surf break north of the campground, popular with swimmers, sunbathers and surfers alike.
  • San Elijo, the beach in front of the campground is great for families.
  • Cardiff Reef, a pleasant little beach park and surf spot on the south end of the campground where the cliffs end.
  • George's is a popular spot, located just south from the San Elijo Lagoon river mouth, also known as 'Restaurant Row’ as restaurants, like the Chart House and the Beach House, are located right above the beach on Highway 101.


  • You can park at any of the designated lots, but be sure to purchase a parking pass, available at the ranger station at Cardiff State Beach camping grounds.
  • Street parking along Highway101 free, but look out for cars zooming by as you cross the Interstate.

Bathrooms & Showers

  • Public restrooms and showers are available at Cardiff State Beach, and two other locations north of the river mouth


  • Lifeguard stands are staffed seasonally depending on weather conditions and the number of beach patrons. During spring and summer months, lifeguards are active and available.

Popular Activities

  • Surfing, paddle boarding, boogie boarding
  • Body surfing and swimming allowed in designated areas
  • Snorkeling and scuba diving
  • Spear fishing

Directions to San Elijo State Beach

  • From freeway 5 exit Birmingham Dr. west to San Elijo Ave. and turn left.  Take a right onto Chesterfield Dr. and another right onto S Coast Hwy 101. Follow S Coast Hwy a short distance you will see the entrance to San Elijo State Beach.

What to Love

  • Tide pools during extreme low tides at Swamis.
  • Red tides during warm summer months.
  • Surf competitions and festivals at Cardiff State Beach.
  • VG Donut & Bakery - a third-generation family bakery and North County institution.

What to Know

  • Strong currents and rip tides, especially around the river mouth.
  • Big waves during swells - leave the big wave surfing to the pros and stay out of the water during big swells.
  • Bluff failures. Stay a good 10 feet away from the bluffs and cliffs.
  • No alcohol or smoking on the beaches.

Browse the articles and listings below to learn more about the beaches of Cardiff-by-the-Sea!

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